Miracles from a maths genius

Debbie Jacob
Debbie Jacob

ALL OF US who knew Ronnie Chun Taite were shocked and saddened to learn on January 16 that he had died after fighting a bout of flu.

To know Ronnie was to love him. He had rescued countless students and desperate parents – like me – who searched high and low for a good maths tutor. I am sorry if you never came in contact with Ronnie because he was an amazing educator – one of the best I have ever known.

I met Ronnie about 15 years ago when my daughter, Ijanaya, struggled in maths at Bishop Anstey High School. On many days she came home and said she had no maths teacher. When parents complained about this, the school politely told us maths teachers were hard to come by. They had hired one, who was finishing her degree at the University of the West Indies, and they had to abide by her schedule until she was available to teach full time.

“We have to think about the future,” they said.

That left many of us in a mad scramble to find maths tutors. For me, this seemed to be an exercise in futility. Ijanaya, always a no-nonsense child, rejected everyone on my list of tutors. After each lesson, she climbed in the car, sighed and said, “Just a lime.”

Imagine my surprise the day she came from Ronnie’s lesson and said, “This is a good lessons class.”

Ronnie had an ambitious plan. “She has gaps in her learning because of not having a regular teacher,” he said. “I will make sure her homework gets done, but we will have to go back to the beginning to fill in those gaps,” he said.

This seemed like a daunting task to me, but Ronnie pulled it off. Soon, I didn’t recognise my daughter. Almost overnight she became a confident maths student. I can’t say she ever learned to love maths, but she had a healthy respect for it, and she could work her way through problems that once baffled and upset her.

For those of us who have maths-anxious children, this seemed like a miracle and Ronnie, who had an uncanny way of relating to teenagers, seemed to be a genius.

I recommended Ronnie to many desperate parents who called for advice about finding a good maths tutor.

“Just don’t be shocked when you see Ronnie,” I always told them. “He might have orange hair, but he is nice and knowledgeable; he relates well to teenagers; gets the most out of them; fills them with confidence, and fosters a whole different relationship with maths.

I can’t tell you how many parents called to thank me over the years after I sent them to Ronnie. No one ever mentioned the orange hair or Ronnie’s quirky personality.

To this day, Ijanaya and I marvel at how quickly she went from nearly failing maths to acing maths. She and I felt like doing a dance in the streets when she got a “2" in CXC maths. We still talk about that; still wonder at how quickly Ronnie turned everything around.

I once told Ronnie I wanted to recommend him as a teacher in the International School where I worked. But Ronnie didn’t want to teach in a school. Financially speaking, he said he was better off tutoring. He loved the independence and teaching small groups of children. Sadly, working full-time in a school just didn’t pay.

Besides, Ronnie wanted to be free to enjoy life on his terms. He loved partying so he was in his element for Carnival. In many ways, Ronnie was like a big, happy teenager himself. Always jovial, always laughing, he had such a disarming way about him.

On his birthday last August, I sent Ronnie a message on Facebook. I wrote, “Happy birthday, Ronnie. I am one of those lucky parents who found you as a maths tutor. You are the wizard who turned my daughter from a maths-hating pupil to a confident maths student. Wishing you all the best.”

He simply wrote back, “Thank you, Debbie.”

No words can ever convey how grateful I was for Ronnie.

Ronnie, always humble and happy, had a gift for teaching. Education in TT was richer for his presence. His absence will be felt by many, and I am sorry for the students who will never have the benefit of being taught by him.

RIP, Ronnie. You were a genius. We will always remember your gracious spirit.


"Miracles from a maths genius"

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